Nearly 30 years after his passing, Bill Evans’ monumental contributions to jazz were recited, remembered and celebrated with the help of Bill Charlap, an avuncular Jim Hall, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra—sans their leader, Winton Marsalis.
The Rose Theater resonated Evans’ distinctly impressionistic compositions, seeming to exhale with each new phrase during the opening arrangement of “Waltz for Debby”. The tune began with Charlap solo, before the entire JLCO joined in, immediately giving the piece an atypical robustness. The modular loges that are stacked around the stage, with lights exposing the innards of Frederick P. Rose Hall behind them, became canvases for varying light patterns throughout the nearly two-hour-long program.
Between selections, Bill Charlap read from a scripted summary of Evans’ life, reduced to the most common denominators, like “he was just a regular guy” and his “depth of emotion” was superior. Charlap’s dramatized reading sounded a bit too much like Casey Kasem.
The evening’s centerpiece was Evans former collaborator and guitarist Jim Hall. Permanently hunched from decades of playing, and sauntering out to roaring applause with his cane, Hall at first had to be reminded what key “With a Song in My Heart” was being performed in. With the trio of Charlap, Sean Smith (bass), and Bill Stewart (drums), Hall’s gliding lyrical melodies were equally supportive and melodic. He was charming throughout, sharing stories and dedicating “All Across the City” to his wife Jane.
Whenever the JLCO joined in, they were always the most animated, and seemed like the only ones having fun in the theater. Ali Jackson (drummer) was especially good on the biggest arrangements of the night, “Five” and “Peri’s Scope”. Also, “Interplay” highlighted a capable Carlos Henriquez on bass. Ted Nash, aside from his strong arrangements, was also a lively soloist and substitute leader for the absent Marsalis.
In Will Friedwald’s program notes, he wrote of the special sentimentality contained in Evans’ cover of Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time”. Specifically, he wrote, Evans keenly conveyed the lyric “Let’s be glad for what we’ve had / And what’s to come.” It was an ironic way to conclude his remarks, because as JALC ossifies into a cultural institution, among younger audiences and players it is increasingly viewed as a conservational force, its artistic director Winton Marsalis coloring within the lines of jazz fundamentalism. He should take some cues from his senior, Marian McPartland. Her NPR program, “Piano Jazz”, an institution itself, seems to have no preconceived creative limits on which musicians to explore.
To be fair, much adventuresome programming takes place on the center’s other two stages (Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola and the Allen Room)—and several “Jazz for Young People” concerts exist. For example, the compelling American Songbook Series (which is actually a product of Lincoln Center, not JALC), featured performances by artists like indie darlings Dirty Projectors, Todd Snider, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. JALC’s Music of Bill Evans program, however, was prototypical, preaching to an aging, and at times sleeping, congregation.
Photos by Ayano Hisa
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